Fasting in the Shafi'i Madzhab

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted and adapted from the classic manual of Shafi’i madzhab, “The Reliance of the Traveler & Tools of the Worshipper”, from Imam Shihab ad-Din Abu al-'Abbas Ahmad ibn an-Naqib al-Miswri (r.a.), from the section on fasting.

The month of the fast is the best of months, and it is one of the distinctive features of this ummah; that is, as now practiced, a fact not contradicted by the word of Allah (s.w.t.):

O ye who believe!  Fasting is Prescribed to you as it was Prescribed to those before you that ye may (learn) self-restraint. ― (Surah al-Baqarah:183)

The resemblance is interpreted as referring to fasting without other qualification, not to its amount and time.  Fasting in Ramadhan is one of the pillars of Islam by scholarly consensus, ijma’.  Swahih al-Bukhari and Swahih Muslim relate that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Islam is built upon five: testifying there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, performing the prayer, giving zakat, making the pilgrimage to the House, and fasting Ramadhan.”

So who has to fast and who is not required to fast?  Fasting Ramadan is obligatory for every Muslim who has reached puberty; is sane; is capable of bearing the fast; and if female, is not in the period of menstruation or post-natal bleeding, nifas.

The following are not required to fast: a non-Muslim; a child; the unsound of mind; or someone whom fasting exhausts because of advanced years or having an illness from which he is unlikely to recover.  None of the above-mentioned is obliged to fast or to make up a missed fast except someone who misses a fast because of illness.  Such a person must give feed the indigent for each fast-day he misses enough for two meals, just over half a litre of food.

The following are not required to fast, though they are obliged to make up the fast for days missed.  Making up meaning that one fasts a single day for each obligatory fast missed.  They are: those who are ill with an illness that would worsen, delay the recovery, or cause one considerable harm with; the same dispensation applying to someone who needs to take medicine during the day that breaks the fast and that he cannot delay taking until night; those who are traveling; a person who has left Islam; or a woman who is in her menses or period of postnatal bleeding.

If the ill person or traveller takes it upon themselves to fast, it is valid, though a fast by someone who has left Islam, or a woman in menstruation or period of postnatal bleeding is not valid.  When not fasting in Ramadhan, if a non-Muslim becomes a Muslim, an insane person regains his sanity, or a child reaches puberty, it is recommended but not obligatory that they fast the rest of that day and make up the fast later.  A child who reaches puberty while fasting on a day of Ramadhan is obliged to fast the rest of the day, and is recommended to make it up.  A child of seven is ordered to fast, and at ten, is disciplined for not fasting.  A woman whose period ends during a day of Ramadhan is recommended to fast the rest of the day and is obliged to make up the fast. 

For those who follow the moon, if the testimony of a witness that the new moon has been seen during the previous night, is made during a day and they are uncertain as to whether it was the first of Ramadhan or not, then it is obligatory to fast the rest of the day and to make it up later.

Excessive hunger or thirst, meaning that it is likely to cause death or illness, are legitimate excuses not to fast, even when they occur on a day one has already begun to fast, as soon as the fast becomes a hardship.  The fast must then be made up.

It is permissible not to fast when traveling, even when the intention to fast has been made the night before, provided that the journey is at least 50 miles one way, and that one leaves town before dawn.  If one leaves after dawn, one is not entitled to omit the fast.  It is preferable for travelers not to fast if fasting would harm them, though if not, then fasting is better.

A woman who is breast-feeding a baby or is pregnant and apprehends harm to herself or her child may omit the fast and make it up later, though if she omits it because of fear of harm for the child alone, and not for herself, then she must give just over half a litre of food in charity for each day missed, as an expiation, in addition to making up each day missed.

Fasting Ramadhan is only obligatory when the new moon of Ramadhan is sighted.  For those who do not see it, it only becomes obligatory when the sighting is established by the testimony of an upright witness.  If it is too overcast to be seen, then Sha’ban is presumed to last for thirty days, after which people begin fasting Ramadhan.  If the new moon is sighted during the day, before noon on the last of the thirty days, it is considered as belonging to the following night and the ruling for that day does not change.  If the moon is seen in one city but not another, then if the two are close, in the same region, the ruling holds for both.  But if the two are not close, then not.

The testimony of a single witness that the new moon has been seen is sufficient to establish that the month of Ramadhan has come, provided the witness is upright, male, and responsible for the duties of Islam.  This excludes boys who have reached the age of discernment but not puberty.

If a person knows by calculations of lunar movements or the positions of the stars that the next day is Ramadhan, fasting is nevertheless not obligatory for him or the public, though it is permissible for him alone.  There are places, however, such as Southeast Asia, which follow calculations.

If it is difficult to learn which month it is, for someone imprisoned or the like, such as someone being held in a dark place who cannot tell night from day, or someone who does not know when Ramadhan has come because of being in a land without habitations or people who know when it is, then such a person is obliged to reckon Ramadhan as best he can and to fast it.  Such a fast is valid if it remains unknown as to whether the month fasted actually coincided with Ramadhan, or if it did coincide with it, or if the month fasted occurred after it, though if the month fasted was before Ramadhan, it is not valid.

The conditions of a valid fast are the intention; and refraining from things which break the fast.  One must make the intention to fast for each day one fasts.  If the intended fast is obligatory, then the intention must be specific, as to the fast being for Ramadhan, a vow, an expiation, or whatever; and be made in the night prior to dawn.  For Hanafis, the intention for a day of Ramadhan, but not a makeup fast, is valid if made before midway between true dawn and sunset of the day itself.

The optimal way is to intend in one’s heart to fast the following day as a current performance of the obligation of Ramadhan in the present year for Allah (s.w.t.), the fast and of Ramadhan being unanimously considered as integral to the intention, though scholars differ concerning the obligation of intending it as a current performance, an obligation, or for Allah (s.w.t.).

One’s intention is valid if on the night before a day of uncertainty, as to whether it will be the first day of Ramadhan, someone one trusts but who does not have all the qualifications of an acceptable witness informs one of having seen the new moon, and relying on this information one intends to fast the next day to fulfill the obligation of Ramadhan. and the next day turns out to be Ramadhan.  But one’s fast is not valid if one makes the intention without anyone having informed one of sighting the new moon, no matter whether if one’s intention is firm or whether undecided, as when one intends that if the following day is Ramadhan, one will fast, but if not, one will not.

One’s fast is valid if on the night before 30th Ramadan, one intends that if the following day is of Ramadhan, one will fast, but if not, one will not, and then the next day is of Ramadhan, since it already is Ramadhan and the initial presumption is that it will remain so.  Non-obligatory fasts, on the other hand, are valid by merely making the intention to fast before noon without needing to specify the type of fast.

What invalidates the fast and what does not?  Each of the following things invalidates the day’s fast when one knows they are unlawful during an obligatory fast, and remembers one is fasting but does them deliberately anyway; and they obligate one to both make up the fast-day later and fast the remainder of that day: eating; drinking; and smoking, though not if there is some smoke in the air that one unintentionally inhales; taking snuff up the nose that reaches the sinuses, a ruling likewise applicable to oil or water preparation; suppositories which are vaginal or anal; pouring water, oil, or any other preparation into the ears until it reaches the eardrum; inserting a finger or something else into the anus or vagina further than the area disclosed when one squats to relieve oneself; anything that enters the body cavity, whether stabbed into it, such as a knife or spear thrust which penetrates it, or whether medicine, though intramuscular or intravenous injections of medicine do not break one's fast; vomiting if it is deliberate and one is able to prevent it, though if nausea overcomes one, vomiting does not break one’s fast; sexual intercourse, if deliberate, even if there is no orgasm, or orgasm from stroking a non genital region or from masturbation; using so much water to rinse out the nose and mouth that some reaches the stomach, that is, if any reaches the body cavity because of using an abundance of water, it breaks the fast, though if some water slips down when an abundance has not been used, it does not break it; or to continue making love, even for a moment, after dawn has arrived.

The criterion as to whether something invalidates the fast is: a substance, even if not much, that reaches the body cavity through an open passageway, substance excluding odours, and open excluding anything else, such as absorption through pores; sexual intercourse; or orgasm, whether as the result of touching, or because of masturbation; all this provided that one is aware that these acts are unlawful and that one remembers one is fasting, and provided they are done deliberately and voluntarily.

There is a special expiation of the fast for vitiating it via sexual intercourse.  In addition to making up the fast, an expiation is obligatory for the fast days of Ramadhan that are deliberately vitiated by sexual intercourse.  The legal occasion of the offense is the particular day of fasting, so that if it were committed on two separate days, two separate expiations would be necessary, though if it were committed twice in one day there would be only one expiation.  The expiation consists of freeing a sound Muslim slave, or if not possible, then to fast the days of two consecutive months.  In the Shafi’i madzhab, the expiation is only for sexual intercourse, though the Hanafis hold it is obligatory for vitiating the fast for other reasons as well.  If this is not possible, then the expiation is to feed sixty indigent just over half a litre of food each.  If one is unable to do this, the expiation remains as an unperformed obligation upon the person concerned.  The woman who is made love to is not obliged to expiate it.  It is only upon the man.

If the fast is unintentionally broken, the fast remains valid if any of the things which break it are done absentmindedly, out of ignorance, or under compulsion.  Nor is it broken by involuntary vomiting; having a wet dream, or orgasm as a result of thinking or looking at something, unless the latter two usually cause orgasm, in which case one has broken one’s fast by not avoiding them; some water reaching the body cavity as a result of rinsing out the mouth or nose, provided not much water was used; saliva carrying down some food particles from between one’s teeth, provided this is after having cleaned between them, if one is unable to spit them out; gathering saliva in the mouth and swallowing it, bringing saliva as far forward as the tongue, but not to the lips, and then swallowing it, or coughing up phlegm from the throat and spitting it out; the arrival of dawn when there is food in one's mouth which one spits out; the arrival of dawn when one is lovemaking and one immediately disengages; or when sleeps all day or has lost consciousness, provided one regains consciousness for at least a moment of the day.

Making up the fast is obligatory if one eats, thinking it is night, but then finds that it is day; or eats, presuming that the sun has set, and the question as to whether one ate before sunset or after continues and remains unresolved.  It is not obligatory to make up a fast on which one ate on the presumption that dawn had not yet come, and the question remains unresolved since the initial certainty was that it was night.

A fast-day is invalidated by insanity, even for a moment; being unconscious the entire day; or the appearance of menstrual or postnatal flow.  The insane person is not obliged to make up such a day's fast, while the others are.

The following are the recommended acts for the fast.  A predawn meal is recommended, even if it is slight or consists of water alone, and the time for it begins from the middle of the night onwards.  It is best to delay it to just before dawn, as long as one does not apprehend dawn’s arrival while still eating, though when one does not know when dawn is, it is not the sunnah to thus delay it.

It is best to hasten breaking the fast when one is certain that the sun has set.  One should break it with an odd number of dates, though if one has none, water is best.  It is recommended to say after doing so, “O Allah, for You, I fasted, and upon Your Bounty, I have broken the fast.”

It is recommended in Ramadhan, to be especially generous in giving charity; to improve one’s relations with family and relatives; to recite the Qur’an abundantly; to spend periods of spiritual retreat, i’itikaf, in the mosque, especially during the last ten days of Ramadhan; to break the fast of others after sunset, even if only with water because of the hadits related by Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.) that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “He who breaks another’s fast earns the same reward as the one who fasted without diminishing the latter’s reward in the slightest”; and if in a state of major ritual impurity, janabah, to perform the ghusl before dawn.

It is recommended to avoid slander, lying, and foul language, which are always unlawful, but even worse when fasting; the pleasure of the senses, even those that do not break the fast, such as smelling fragrant plants or looking at them, because of the gratification therein which is incompatible with the wisdom of the fast, even though they are permissible when not fasting, and while it is recommended not to use perfume during a fast day, it does not hurt to use it on the night before; and medicinal bloodletting or blood donation or cupping, as these, like the fast, weaken a person and could have a synergistic debilitating effect.  If someone abuses one while fasting, one should say to him, “I am fasting.”

The following are unlawful and offensive while fasting.  It is unlawful to kiss, or embrace, or pet with the hand, while fasting for those who are sexually aroused by this.  It is unlawful not to eat or drink anything between fast days, though it is not unlawful if one has some water, even a mouthful, before dawn.  It is offensive during the fast to taste food, or to use a toothpick after noon.

Regarding making up the missed fast, one obliged to make up some fast days of Ramadhan is recommended to do so consecutively and immediately.  It is not permissible for a person with some unperformed fasts of Ramadhan to delay making them up until the next Ramadhan unless there is an excuse.  If one delays until the next Ramadhan, one must pay just over half a litre of food to the poor for each day missed, in addition to making it up  If making up a fast is delayed until a second Ramadhan comes, then one must pay double this amount for each day.  And so forth; every year that passes upon an unfulfilled fast adds just over half a litre to be paid for that day.  But if one’s excuse for not performing them persists, such as travel or illness, then it is permissible for one to delay making them up as long as the excuse is present, even it is lasts for years.  One is not obliged to pay the penalty fee for this delay even if several Ramadhans go by, but is merely obliged to make up the missed fast.

If someone dies with unperformed fast which he could have fasted but did not, then each fast is paid for by the responsible family member with just over half a litre of food, or he can fast for him in place of paying for each day.  As for someone who dies after two Ramadhans have elapsed upon his missed fast-days, each fast is paid for with double the above of food, or the family member can both fast a day and pay just over half a litre for each day.  The family member may fast in the deceased’s stead for the initial non-performance of the fast, though he cannot fast in place of paying the food penalty for each year that making up a fast was delayed before the deceased’s death, because this is the legal expiation for the delay.  As for someone who died before his excuse for not fasting ceased to exist, nothing at all is obligatory for him.

Then there are the sunnah fasts.  It is recommended to fast on six days of the month of Shawwal, and that they be the six consecutive days immediately following ‘Iyd al-Fithr, their being consecutive and their immediately following the ‘Iyd are two separate sunan, though it is permissible to fast them non-consecutively; on the 9th and 10th of Muharram; on the full moon days, the white days of every lunar month, which are the 13th and the two days that follow it; on Mondays and Thursdays; on the first nine days of Dzu al-Hijjah; during the inviolable months, Dzu al-Qa’idah, Dzu al-Hijjah, Muharram, and Rajab; and on every other day, a fast described by the Prophet (s.a.w.) as “the most Beloved fast to Allah.”  Details may be found in Riyadh asw-Swalihin.

The best fast-days, after Ramadhan, are those of Muharram, then Rajab, then Sha’ban.  In general, the best month for fasting, after Ramadhan and the inviolable months, is Sha’ban, there being no objection to fasting an entire month or just part of one.

It is recommended to fast on the Day of ‘Arafah, the 9th Dzu al-Hijjah, unless one is a pilgrim present at ‘Arafah, when it is better not to fast.  It is not offensive for such a person to fast, though it is better for him not to.

There are also offensive or unlawful fasts.  It is offensive to fast every day of the year besides the ‘Iydayn and the three days of tashriq, if this harms one or causes one not to do something one should do for oneself or others, even if merely recommended.  If not, then it is not offensive.  It is unlawful and not valid to fast, whether voluntarily, as a vow, or as a makeup, on the two days of ‘Iyd or the three days following ‘Iyd al-Adhha, the days of tashriq.

It is also unlawful and invalid to fast on a day of uncertainty, as to whether it is the first day of Ramadhan, meaning on 30 Sha’ban, if someone who does not have the necessary qualifications of a witness mentions having seen the new moon of Ramadhan.  Otherwise, when no one has mentioned seeing it, or when an acceptable witness has, then it is not considered a day of uncertainty.  Fasting on a day of uncertainty is not valid as a day of Ramadhan, though it can validly fulfill a vow or a makeup fast.  Voluntary fasting on such a day is only valid when one would have fasted anyway because it falls on a day one habitually fasts, or when one has been fasting each day since before mid- Sha’ban.  If neither of these is the case, then it is unlawful and invalid to fast on it.  It is unlawful to fast during the days after mid Sha’ban unless one would have fasted anyway because they fall on days one habitually fasts, or unless one has been fasting each day since before mid-Sha’ban.

It is offensive to single out Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays for fasting, that is, to single out one of the above-mentioned days when they do not coincide with days one normally fasts.  The fast of someone who usually fasts every other day and whose fast coincides with one of these days or with a day of uncertainty is not offensive, because of the hadits related by Imam Muslim (r.a.), “Do not single out Friday for fasting unless it happens to coincide with a fast one of you performs,” similar days being analogous to Fridays in this respect.

Once begun, it is unlawful to interrupt either an obligatory fast or an obligatory prayer, whether it is current, a makeup, or vowed; though if it is non-obligatory, whether wholly supererogatory or linked with a particular event or time, then one may interrupt it, but it is offensive to do so if there is no excuse.


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